The raspy mew and quiet quirt of the catbird

Gray Catbird perched in the Dracaena marginata in our backyard.

Someone planted a couple of houseplants from Home Depot a number of years ago and now we have a little dragontree forest.

“Gray Catbird” was one of the voices I recorded and identified this morning using Sound ID on the Merlin Bird ID app. From about 7 to 7:30 a.m. I recorded the birds off and on and watched the different bird IDs pop up on the screen.

It highlights the bird names as it’s hearing them, in real time, which helps me learn the bird songs and calls.

Birds I heard in my backyard this morning over the course of half an hour and one cup of coffee: Northern Parula, Northern Cardinal, Pileated Woodpecker, Gray Catbird, Blue Jay, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Carolina Wren, Fish Crow, Osprey, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Red-shouldered Hawk and Great-crested Flycatcher.

Gray Catbird Sounds, according to Cornell Lab of Ornithology All About Birds…


Male Gray Catbirds sing a long, halting series of short notes collected into “phrases,” which combine to make a song. One whole song can last many minutes. Sounds include whistles, squeaks, gurgles, whines, and nasal tones. The notes often are imitations of other birds as well as of frogs and mechanical sounds. The series of sounds is random, but certain notes are often repeated. While mockingbirds tend to repeat phrases three or more times, and Brown Thrashers typically sing phrases twice before moving on, Catbirds usually don’t repeat phrases. Females sing infrequently, and when they do, their songs are sung more quietly.


The most common call is a raspy mew that sounds like a cat. Catbirds also make a loud, chattering chek-chek-chek and a quiet quirt.

I also play Wordle first thing in the morning. I can only hope that someday the word will be QUIRT.

Pizza-eating crow

I just missed photographing the dramatic moment yesterday morning when this crow swooped down to the road (old Dixie Highway in Rio/ Jensen Beach west of the bowling alley) in front of an oncoming car and grabbed a half-eaten slice of pizza.

He carried it in his beak to this spot along the overhead wires that was a wider place to rest the slice while he ripped off pieces.

Other crows came in to watch and wait their turn.

I would have thought pizza too heavy to carry but this was a strong crow, made strong perhaps by its skill at foraging. Brains, then brawn.

I am assuming it is a Fish Crow, as we are not far from water and their calls were nasally uh-ohs.

Not everyone realizes it, but there are two kinds of crows across much of the eastern United States. Looking almost identical to the ubiquitous American Crow, Fish Crows are tough to identify until you learn their nasal calls. Look for them around bodies of water, usually in flocks and sometimes with American Crows. They are supreme generalists, eating just about anything they can find.

The crows spread out along this road and move singly or in small groups from place to place to look for food and to people-watch.

At night in winter they fly in groups that merge to get larger and larger as hundreds more crows stream in to join, heading southeast towards their night roost somewhere across the Indian River Lagoon, maybe on a spoil island or on the northern tip of Jupiter Island that is an undeveloped state park accessible only by boat (or wing).

In spring and summer, they pair off to nest in neighborhoods. Here’s the time I watched a pair in Sewall’s Point defend their nesting territory from a hawk.

Peacock skirmish

Peahen on a Rio rooftop, with her pretty green neck glinting in the sun. She’s above it all.

The females of the Indian peafowl (peahens) are dressed in simple brown and white with green at the neck. The males (peacocks) are a different story. See my photos from last week HERE.

The peahen was sitting calmly on a roof while down below a group of peacocks (known as a pride, or ostentation) was having a sort of battle on either side of this barrier.

They were running around, squawking, and popping their heads up over the fence to see the other side. Occasionally one would jump over, or go around, and join the other team. I couldn’t make sense of it.

Maybe all the fuss was because mating season is beginning. First make war, then make love.

Here’s a very different looking bird… a weird color variation?

There are some “white” peacocks in Rio – not totally white but with more white on their bodies than the others.

Oh, these finches live in Florida too

It was a cheerful whistling with wandering notes and not much of a tune that caused me to look up and see this little bird faced toward the rising sun.

It had some color at the throat, bold stripes, and a blunt, stubby finch-type beak.

I zoomed in.

“Maybe it’s a weird sparrow or some Florida finch I don’t know about yet,” I thought.

The naked eye does not see what my camera sees, at this stage of life. I would review my photos later.

I walked around a couple of blocks, pushing my grandson’s baby stroller on our morning walk. A few minutes later I spotted two of the finch-like birds on wire, just above some seagrapes.

The one on the left had a bit more color. At home I double-checked online and confirmed, “Oh, it’s a House Finch.”

Cornell Lab of Ornithology: House Finch ID

Adult Male: Note very thick bill with curved rather than straight-edged profile. Red on head is largely on the eyebrow and throat, with brownish cheeks. Flanks are boldly streaked.

At first I thought the less-colorful bird on the right must be a female or immature finch, but Cornell says females and not-full-grown House Finches are all brown. So, a less colorful male? Almost looks like he has a little yellow color in addition to red.

The red of a male House Finch comes from pigments contained in its food during molt (birds can’t make bright red or yellow colors directly). So the more pigment in the food, the redder the male. This is why people sometimes see orange or yellowish male House Finches. Females prefer to mate with the reddest male they can find, perhaps raising the chances they get a capable mate who can do his part in feeding the nestlings.

House Finches would sometimes visit our bird feeder in New Hampshire.

I didn’t know they lived in Florida. Cornell’s map does not show their range extending to our area. They just barely edge into our area in winter on the Audubon map. Guess it’s time to update the maps for our little wanderers, who seem to be expanding their range.

One of two House Finches perched over Arch Street in Jensen Beach, Florida.

Well, hey, the map on the Wikipedia entry for House Finches does show them here, as well as everywhere else in the U.S.

Originally only a resident of Mexico and the southwestern United States, they were introduced to eastern North America in the 1940s. The birds were sold illegally in New York City as “Hollywood Finches”, a marketing artifice. To avoid prosecution under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, vendors and owners released the birds. They have since become naturalized; in largely unforested land across the eastern U.S. they have displaced the native purple finch and even the non-native house sparrow.

Ospreys nesting on light poles at the skate park and ballfields

A pair of Ospreys has been trying to build a nest on top of this light pole at the Rio-Jensen skate park on Dixie Highway in Jensen Beach, FL… but the sticks keep falling off.

I’m keeping an eye on them to see if they figure it out.

Red dot is the location of the potential nest, zoom in for close up.

Great location, close to many fish hawk fishing spots in the Stuart/ Jensen Beach area of Martin County including the St. Lucie River, Indian River Lagoon, Atlantic Ocean, and a variety of lakes and wetland ponds.

Messy nesty.

Just beyond the skate park are the ballfields at Langford Park and these fortunate Ospreys scored the only nesting platform I could spot on one of many light poles.

They are on the furthest light pole in the center of this picture, taken early yesterday morning.

There was an Osprey perched on the pole in the middle too, maybe thinking about building a nest?

It would be nice if the county parks would put up a few more platforms here. Although maybe they don’t want Osprey poop and fishy bits on their fields and paths!

Peacocks of Rio, in living color

Peacock perched in Rio, Florida.

The males are growing out their lustrous long feathers for display as breeding season begins. Their piercing calls echo through that eastern part of Rio where peafowl wandered off Hollywood star Frances Langford’s jungly estate.

The estate was denuded of all vegetation and sat as golden brown dirt for a few years before a tract of new houses was built, but by then the peafowl had made their homes nearby among smaller, older houses with their older plantings of trees and shrubs.

Peacocks molt those striking, long feathers annually (in summer) and regrow new ones as mating season approaches.

They are not actually tail feathers but elongated upper tail “covert” feathers, growing out of their backs.

I spy with my little eye… something that is pretty and wants to be admired and photographed.

I was out for a stroller walk with my six-month-old grandson who lives with his parents in a peacock-rich neighborhood yesterday. He had drowsed off for his first nap of the day (he loves a nice fresh-air outdoor nap) while I deployed my Canon SX60 superzoom point-and-shoot camera that had been riding along in the bottom of the stroller.

But these peacocks are big and tame and not much zooming is necessary.

Ah, the color of those iridescent blue feathers! The feathers on his back remind me that peafowl are related to another big bird, the wild turkey.

The Phasianidae are a family of heavy, ground-living birds, which includes pheasants, partridges, junglefowl, chickens, turkeys, Old World quail, and peafowl.

They do remind me of flashy, tropical chickens too. Something about the head and curve of the beak and size of the eye.

Fond memories of my New Hampshire flock.

Free range.

The residents of Rio are generally fond of the birds. I wonder if these people painted their house on purpose to match the peacocks.

They leave big fat poops on driveways and walkways, they scream morning, noon and night for half the year (you mostly get used to it), but you cannot deny they are gloriously ornamental, beauty to behold.

After the hurricane, cool, wet and windy

Common Gallinule among the lily pads at Green River this morning.

I walked the dogs along the dike at the wetlands there. It was an unseasonably cool 65 degrees with a strong northwest wind, due to Hurricane Ian passing from the west to the north of us yesterday.

The Category 4 hurricane was a terrible blow to the Gulf Coast 100 miles to our west. We escaped with a little extra yard work and a pool full of leaves.

Gallinules look a bit like ducks, until they “stand up.”

They are members of the rail family and their long toes help them walk on top of floating vegetation and mud. I think this one is standing on lily stems.

Help with hurricane relief here: Hurricane Ian – Volunteer Florida.

Key West pigeon quest

Why did the rooster cross the … poem?

I went for a long walk in downtown Key West on Wednesday, September 14 – wearing flip flops because I had gotten my sneakers wet in a mangrove swamp that morning.

My first stop was the Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory, where colorful and exotic birds and butterflies are so easy to see and photograph that they are pretty much served up to you on a silver platter.

But I had set myself the goal of finding and photographing a particular bird native to the Caribbean and southern tip of Florida, the White-crowned Pigeon.

I practiced taking pictures of Key West’s gypsy chickens. They are all over the place. This one was nipping tiny flowers from weeds.

The story behind the Key West chickens? Read it HERE

There have always been chickens in Key West.

When people stopped the laborious process of turning live chickens into Sunday dinner many decades ago, some backyard chickens gained their freedom. Other roosters were released when cock-fighting became illegal.

Cock of the walk.

Roaming chickens remind me of islands I’ve visited in the Caribbean. When you are in this southernmost U.S. city, you are just 75 miles north of the official latitudinal start of the Tropics.

I did finally see the Caribbean bird I was looking for.

Quick, there it is! Out of focus, bummer.

The debonair White-crowned Pigeon is a large, slate-gray pigeon with a neat white cap and striking white eyes. Widespread around the Caribbean, it crosses into southernmost Florida, where it feeds on fruit in trees near the coast and on islands, including the Keys. White-crowned Pigeons make long-distance morning and evening flights high over open water between islands, as they commute from mangrove forests to areas with fruiting fig and other tropical fruit trees.

See its white “crown” or cap?

I had seen a WCP fly over when I was on Long Key the day before and decided to try to get a photo of one when I realized it would be a new bird for the bird blog. I remembered having seen one before, but where?

I rummaged around in several places I keep old words and pictures and got it. In March of 2014 my husband and I rented a one-bedroom villa in Caye Caulker, an island in the Caribbean off the coast of Belize. We lived in New Hampshire then.

This is from a review I posted on Tripadvisor

(March 2014) The upper deck of Villa Gemma puts you at eye level with tropical birds. You are drinking Travellers Classic Gold Rum with papaya, pineapple juice and coconut water, purchased at a sandy-floored grocery store in town after a morning swim at The Cut at the northern end of the island and transported in a bike basket over potholed dirt roads back to the hardwood kitchen countertop and perfect-sized fridge.

That upper deck is shady in the afternoon and faces east to the ocean and its trade winds, beyond the trees, a few streets away. You can hear the single-engine arrival of a Tropic Air Cessna Caravan at the small airport just to the south. Children in uniforms are biking past, returning to school after a long lunch at home. You have eaten an omelet with fresh eggs, black beans and rice for lunch. Plus a dash of homemade hot sauce purchased on Day One at that little restaurant next to the beachfront cemetery.

“I’m in a hammock, drinking rum, listening to the call of doves, and not shoveling snow.” This is one of the small perfect moments you are here for.

I started blogging birds in May 2015, so the White-crowned Pigeon never got “counted.” But finally in September of 2022…

I swear it is a White-crowned Pigeon.

Clearly I need a second-floor porch and hammock to really get a good look at this bird. Just add a rum drink to complete the ideal Amy-birding scenario?

I celebrated bagging my pigeon with a visit to the tasting room at the rum distillery named for Ernest Hemingway’s fishing boat Pilar: Papa’s Pilar Rum. I tasted three kinds of rum then had a daiquiri.

I bought a bottle of the blonde rum to mix (Category 1) Hurricanes for our signature book club drink in October, since we are reading Last Train to Paradise: Henry Flagler and the Spectacular Rise and Fall of the Railroad that Crossed an Ocean.

After drinking with Ernest I walked over to a wonderful small museum, the Audubon House.

The house was built in the 1840’s by a wealthy Key West family and was later restored and furnished according to the era. It also contains original Audubon prints on display and for sale.

White-crowned Pigeons!

John James Audubon wrote about them

They are at all times extremely shy and wary, more so in fact than any species with which I am acquainted. The sight of a man is to them insupportable, perhaps on account of the continued war waged against them, their flesh being juicy, well flavoured, and generally tender, even in old birds. Never could I get near one of them so long as it observed me. Indeed, the moment they perceive a man, off they go, starting swiftly with a few smart raps of the wings, and realighting in a close covert for awhile, or frequently flying to another key, from which they are sure to return to that left by them, should you pursue them. It is thus a most toilsome task to procure specimens of these birds.

The dining room, where many types of birds were consumed, in many ways. Out back in the garden is a cook house with information on how food was prepared back then.

Portrait of John James Audubon next to the parlor.

With no other prospects, Audubon set off on his epic quest to depict America’s avifauna, with nothing but his gun, artist’s materials, and a young assistant. Floating down the Mississippi, he lived a rugged hand-to-mouth existence in the South while Lucy earned money as a tutor to wealthy plantation families. In 1826 he sailed with his partly finished collection to England and began to attain his fame as an artist. His life-size, highly dramatic bird portraits, along with his embellished descriptions of wilderness life, hit just the right note at the height of the Continent’s Romantic era. 

The dressing room.

The White-headed Pigeon exhibits little of the pomposity of the common domestic species, in its amorous moments. The male, however, struts before the female with elegance, and the tones of his voice are quite sufficient to persuade her of the sincerity of his attachment. During calm and clear mornings, when nature appears in all her purity and brightness, the cooing of this Pigeon may be heard at a considerable distance, mingling in full concord with the softer tones of the Zenaida Dove. The bird standing almost erect, full-plumed, and proud of his beauty, emits at first a loud croohoo, as a prelude, and then proceeds to repeat his coo-coo-coo. These sounds are continued during the period of incubation, and are at all times welcome to the ear of the visiter of these remarkable islands. – John James Audubon

On the way back to my car, I was still looking up at roofs for pigeons and I stumbled and stubbed my bare toe on a curb, punctured the flesh near the nail, and started bleeding profusely into my flip flop and all over. Slippery! Disgusting! Impossible to walk. And it had started to rain.

I was saved by a nice man who had been sitting on the front porch of his liquor store, watching the passersby. He stepped inside to grab me some paper towels and bandaids. “Blew out my flip flop, stepped on a pop top…” he sang a few lines of Jimmy Buffet’s “Margaritaville” to me. “Bet you don’t know that one.” I laughed and said, “Oh yes, I do know that one.”

Lesson learned. Combining rum with bird-watching is most safely done in a hammock.

More bugs than birds in September, but there’s hope for October

This is a Mangrove Skipper.

My husband would say it’s a moth – because he says every Lepidoptera with a fat body is a moth. I would say it’s a butterfly – because I say every Lepidoptera I see in the daytime is a butterfly.

We usually settle our dispute by looking up the photographed insect. Fat body notwithstanding, the Mangrove Skipper is indeed a butterfly. Score one for me.

But let’s delve a little deeper so maybe we can stop having the same lame identification argument. Turns out there’s more to know: What’s the difference between a moth and a butterfly?

According to the Smithsonian Institution, moths have feathery or comb-like antennae and butterflies have thin antennae with a club shaped tip on the end. Moths are generally drab in color, as they are more often nocturnal and want to be camouflaged against tree bark as they rest during the day. A butterfly’s brightly-colored wings warn predators that they contain nasty-tasting chemicals. Butterflies fold their wings back to rest, while moths flatten their wings against their bodies.

There are exceptions to the rules, of course.

I photographed the skipper butterfly-not-moth on the Golden Orb nature trail at Long Key State Park. I went for a walk there as soon as the park gates opened at 8 a.m. when I was down in the Keys a week and a half ago.

Pretty, huh? The trail started off Just What I Was Looking For. Nice morning walk, hard packed trail surface, potential for birds of the morning, beautiful birds.

But by the time I was far enough out that the only way back was forward to complete the loop, it turned into mosquito hell. Special hungry saltwater mangrove Florida Keys mosquitos.

Then the trail started to go damp, and I tried not to step on the thousands of fiddler crabs scurrying at my feet and hiding in their crab holes.

Some type of Sulphur butterfly, probably a Large Orange Sulphur. Wings folded, it looks a lot like the flowers on this plant. So, sort of camouflaged?

Birdwatchers do watch butterflies too. Florida Keys Audubon: Butterflying in the Florida Keys.

Butterflies have been associated with freedom, spiritual growth, and the human soul. Observing and studying them can definitely improve your physical and mental health. 

Then the trail went fully underwater, but at least I saw a bird.

This Green Heron was wary, but I managed to keep comfort-distance and it did not fly away.

What does it say that I got better pictures of bugs than birds while I was in the Florida Keys? I guess it says SEPTEMBER in way-south FLORIDA. Not all hope is lost though, as it was also the beginning of migration season.

I saw what I thought was a Peregrine Falcon, while driving south over water from Long Key to Curry Hammock State Park (still not finished looking for trails to walk and mosquitoes to feed). At Curry Hammock, I found that the Florida Keys Hawkwatch was set up for a day of keeping an eye on the skies.

It was early in the season, but these are the migrating raptors they tally.

A nice young Hawkwatch woman named Mariah explained that the migrating birds follow the land along the Upper Keys then as it bends around to head west toward the Lower Keys and Key West they pick a spot in the Middle Keys to set out over water. Curry Hammock is ideally situated.

Unlike warblers and other small birds, raptors migrate during the day when the sun heats the land and creates thermals to ride.

Curry Hammock State Park is the largest undeveloped parcel of land between Key Largo and Big Pine Key. Curry Hammock provides vital habitat for many local and migrating species and hosts record numbers of peregrine falcons every fall.

Mariah said that record numbers of Peregrines are tallied each year most often on October 10, which she said they call for fun El Dia de Los Peregrinos. They set a world record in 2015, with 1506 peregrines counted that day. Wow!

More info: Florida Keys Hawkwatch

It’s a pretty place and out near the water the breeze was keeping the bugs away. You can camp at this park too.

Bucket list: rent an RV and park it there for a few days in early- to mid-October and hang out with the hawk-watching nerds.

One more trail: this one had few bugs but hot sun.

It’s part of the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail. It uses the old railroad viaducts next to the newer highway. Great spot for fishermen and people who love to rest their eyes on the horizon, like I do.

Birds and butterflies under a glass dome in Key West

The (adorable) Diamond Dove is named for the white speckles on its wings.

These little doves are native to Australia but I spotted this one at the Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory a couple of days ago, when I was down in the Keys for a few days.

You have to watch where you walk in the conservatory, because the doves get under your feet. Also check yourself for butterflies in the mirror near the exit.

This is a brush-footed butterfly called a Malachite, named for the green mineral malachite. Malachites live mainly in Central America but there are some in the southern tip of Florida, says the internet.

The conservatory is a tropical habitat under a glass dome, with hundreds of butterflies and little birds winging around. It’s magical, and intensely peaceful. If they checked your blood pressure at the beginning of the looping walk and at the end, I’m sure it would be lower.

It’s located near the southern end of world-famous Duval Street in downtown Key West, Florida, not far from the “Southernmost Point” in the U.S. and a bit more than five hours away from my home.

I’m blue, da ba dee da ba daa.

The Blue Dacnis is a member of the tanager family of birds, and lives in parts of Central and South America. I’d love to see one in the wild, but will settle for a climate-controlled mini-paradise in Key West followed by a walk through downtown and stops at Mel Fisher’s Treasures, Mangoes for fish tacos, Pilar Rum Distillery and the Audubon House & Tropical Gardens (more on Key West “birding” in a post to follow).

This is a Clipper, Parthenos sylvia, native to Southeast Asia. (I had help IDing all these birds and bugs on iNaturalist.)

Also a lovely blue (da ba dee), this is an Opal-rumped Tanager nomming on some tanager food.

Tanagers (Thraupidae) are the second-largest family of birds, often brightly-colored, and live only in the Western Hemisphere, mainly the tropics of Central and South America. (The largest family of birds are the tyrant flycatchers, Tyrannidae.)

Speaking of families, I recognized the family of this butterfly. It reminds me of the Zebra Longwings I see often in my neighborhood, the State Butterfly of Florida. This fine fellow is a Red Postman, aka red passion flower butterfly, or crimson-patched longwing – a member of the longwing or Heliconius family of New World butterflies.

And last but not least, an enchantingly weird bird the Guinea Turaco from West Africa. Very dinosaur-like, don’t you think?